Community season 3 episode 16 review: Virtual Systems Analysis

Still weird and still wonderful is Emma's verdict on the latest episode of Community. Read her review here...

 

This review contains spoilers.

3.16 Virtual Systems Analysis

After last week’s therapeutic trip to the carnival, this week the group went the whole hog and just spent some time in a hospital – surely the best place to get the therapy so many of them sorely need… at least in Annie and Abed’s eyes. Thanks to the Dreamatorium, Abed’s insecurities and Annie’s apparent specialist knowledge of hospital administration, she and Abed manage to work through some of those pesky group-control issues. And they say this show is weird…

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Having been central to the action last week, helping Britta break her man addiction, in Virtual Systems Analysis, Annie decides it’s time for Abed to recalibrate that amazing brain of his, by adding some empathy to his Dreamatorium programming. Admittedly, the programming mostly consists of toilet rolls and empty tissue boxes, making any tweaks fairly easy to make in the first instance, but the results pretty tricky to reverse. On the receiving end of what passes for anger in Abed-world, after she all but forced Troy and Britta on a lunch date, Annie ignores Troy’s warnings about Abed’s mental state in the Dreamatorium and almost breaks the poor boy’s brain with her low-functioning meddling.  She also discovers that Abed spends far too much time pretending to be the other members of the group – trying to plan for every group-dynamic eventuality, so he can avoid being stuffed in a locker when they get fed up with him – so maudlin is right. Having been led to believe that Abed was probably above all that, it’s something of a surprise to discover that he even notices other people. People that aren’t Troy, anyway. And not just notice. Obsesses over would be a better phrase. If he wasn’t so funny, chances are Abed would actually be quite scary. Anyone who spends that much time pretending to be their friends – just in case something bad happens – is surely one bad fantasy away from homicide. 

Ignoring the frighteningly bad English accents and tidy, happy ending, the insight into Abed’s brain – a boy whom, it seems, is unable to tell the time or tie his shoes, was bullied at school and really doesn’t like beds that are located on the floor, was beautifully done. Touching and even a little too real at times, the systematic peeling away of his insecurities to reveal the kid still in the locker proves that no recalibration of Abed’s brain is necessary. He’s entirely as he should be. Except for that whole controlling thing… Thankfully, as a balance to all the angsty what-if-my-friends-don’t-need-me stuff, we were treated to some superb vignettes, as played out in Abed’s brain/Dreamatorium; an Inception meets General Hospital spoof that not only showcased Abed’s obsession with the group’s imaginary fate, but accurately, if belatedly, gauged  that Carson Daly was not worth the fuss. 

Given that Community is oft accused of inaccessibility, chances are that Virtual Systems Analysis won’t have won the show any new fans – more’s the pity – but for the fans it already has, the episode was a joy. Abed-heavy, impression laden – it really was a half-decent Chang; Danny Pudi is scarily good at recreating his fellow cast members – superbly written and about as unusual as it’s possible for this show to get – in short, it’s a perfect Community episode. It has been said that the last couple of episodes, this one included, have been interesting rather than funny, but that seems a harsh criticism. Any episode that includes Abed/Troy confessing to a random and hilarious list of quirks can never be categorised as unfunny. Possibly one of Donald Glover’s best moments, Troy tearfully admitting to not understanding Inception, almost immediately after confessing to a penchant for butt stuff and comfortably attired women, will surely go down in the, ahem, annals of Community history. It also puts the enforced pyjama dress code of the pillow and blanket forts in a whole new light… Clearly, in Community-land, interesting and funny are not mutually exclusive. 

One added bonus to what would have been a superb episode regardless, was the sparse, but fabulously hilarious use of Pierce and his not-quite-there-yet senility. From the random ‘I have no idea what’s going on’ to ‘seeing eagles’ due to an unfortunate balls/seat interface, Pierce finally proved his comedic worth, after almost three years of creepy, lecherous racism. Perhaps, where Pierce is concerned, quality not quantity is the key to his success. Just a suggestion.  Otherwise, there’s very little Community can do to improve. Audience numbers be damned – we’ll take the show as it is thank you very much!